Thursday, April 18, 2019

Help My Unbelief...

Mark 9:22b-24 “...But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Then Jesus said to him, “‘If You can’? Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

As I write this short devotional I am also preparing for Easter Sunday, the wonderful time we set aside to celebrate and reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As Christians, we are honestly called to remember this event every day, after all it is the basis of our faith, the power and hope of our renewed life.  But on Easter we set aside more time, celebrate a little louder, and make it a bit more of an emphasis.

Honestly that is how we often live our faith.  When we are met with challenges and special reminders we display our faith for all to see, but what do we do on the quiet days, when the silent struggles happen behind closed doors?  What do we do when we realize that we are being led by our doubt more than our faith?

In this passage from the Gospel of Mark a desperate Father has brought his son to the disciples to be
healed spiritually and physically, but they were not able to help him.  In desperation when he sees Jesus the man says "If you can do anything..."

If you can?  Have you ever had those moments with God?  I have.  Those times where I realize that everything has been crumbling around me while I have been telling God I can handle this. Those times where  God is saying "Let me help" and I halfheartedly reply, If you can....

These are the times when my faith has become rote religion.  It's not that I'm not praying it is that my prayers are hollow.  It isn't that I'm not reading the Bible it is that my eyes scan over the words without letting them penetrate my heart.  This is when I doubt if God can, If God cares, sometimes if even God is real.  How ironic is it that in these moments where I feel and know God is calling me closer to Him I doubt if He is even real! 

After being challenged by Jesus the man utters one of the most honest statements a human can speak: “I do believe! Help my unbelief.” It is that grasp to a wisp of faith, that first tentative step towards God and not away from Him that leads us back to a growing, stronger faith.  It is then that we realize that we can not have faith without God's help to have faith.  We turn towards Him and He helps us believe and trust and follow.

In this encounter from Mark's Gospel the man's small faith was proven true when Jesus healed the boy.  So many times in my life God has proven Himself true when I turn to him with my little faith, no matter how often I have stumbled through moments of doubt and despair.

Resurrection Sunday is the ultimate proof of who Jesus is and what He can do.  It is a moment not for us to put on a show or act like our faith is never without doubts.  Maybe it has been a while since you turned toward Him, believe me He is still calling out to you. This is a time to come honestly before our living Savior and say “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Generous Wisdom

James 1:5-6 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 


The Old Testament tells us that when Solomon became king of Israel, he asked God not for wealth or power but for the wisdom to rule his people well. God answered his prayer with all he wanted and then some. Now we know that Solomon was far from perfect, he even made some dumb decisions later in life when he got away from God and His wisdom, but he is still remembered as among the wisest people ever.

It’s easy for us to look at Solomon and think this wisdom was a one time only deal, only for the new king and not for anyone else. However, if we look at James 1:5, we see something else entirely.

God not only wants all of us to have wisdom; He wants to be generous with His gift of wisdom. It is as if we have received this huge box from God and on the front, it says generous wisdom. We want to get into the box and see all that our Father has given us but we can’t figure out how to move the lid. We fail to notice the sign on the side that says “Ask to Open”. James tells us here that if we lack wisdom all we have to do is ask and that generous box will be open to us.

However, don't think this wisdom is like a magic lamp with a Genie inside, make a wish and be set
for life. As we see from the life of Solomon, God’s wisdom will only be available to us if we stay close to God and follow Him. It is a box that we open again and again by staying with God always. God’s wisdom for us is not the same as clairvoyance or massive knowledge. It is simply learning to see His will and His movements in the midst of the uncertainty of this world - and being smart enough to follow Him.

James tells us in verse six that we have to ask in faith without wavering. God is willing to give us wisdom, but we can't be wavering in faith not just during the asking but throughout. You can’t be thinking on Monday, “God give me wisdom to do your will” then on Tuesday, “God, never mind. I don’t trust you!”

If you don't believe in the wisdom of God you are not going to find it to be very wise. In fact, you will consider it to be foolishness. We see this throughout the Bible, from the rich young ruler walking away from what Jesus told him, to Paul speaking to the crowd in Athens. We want God’s wisdom but if it doesn’t line up with our preconceived knowledge then we simply don't accept it. That is why our minds must be made up before we ask. That is why we must have already made our choice. If we want God to be generous with His wisdom then we must be willing to choose God over the world.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Covenant Love

Ephesians 5:28-30 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.

Throughout the Bible we read of God’s covenant love for us. This is how He relates to us - through covenants. Here, Paul is comparing the marriage between a husband and wife to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church.  Specifically to husbands, He says that we are to love our wives with a sacrificial love, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for the church.  This echoes a theme throughout scriptures of how God loves us, a covenant love.  In other scripture passages, such as Malachi, marriage is also referred to as a covenant. If you look at the whole of scripture you begin to see that love is not just a feeling, or an obsession, or even a contract.  Love, especially between a man and a wife, is a covenant.

What do I mean when I say that? Well when you go back to the original language of the New Testament, ancient Greek, you see two terms used to describe an agreement. Suntheke is a contract. This is where each person gives something and each person receives something. If person A doesn’t live up to his end of the deal then person B can leave the agreement. However, the Bible almost exclusively uses the word diatheke, or covenant, which is an agreement where someone gives something to another person and expects nothing in return.

Now that doesn’t mean covenants are always unconditional. Remember God told Israel, if you keep my commands you will have this. However, the key difference is that those commands were given for their good. It is not that God needed them to keep His commands or even expected them to. He did not go into the covenant in order to get something out of it, He went into the covenant in order to give into it.

When we view marriage through the lens of the Gospel we will begin to correctly see it as a covenant love.  It is a love we pour into.  It is not a love that ignores fault or tolerates evil. It is a love that forgives, confronts with humility, and perseveres.  Husbands love your wives just as Christ loves His church.  That is not a light command.  That is a powerful directive. Husbands love your wives so that your marriage is a direct witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

God's covenant love for us is unfailing and eternal.  It is not blind, it is honest, it is patient.  Is that how you see your love for your spouse?  Are you building a covenant with them that will last or simply writing a contract to be torn up when it has outlived it's usefulness.

Are you building a relationship with your loved one based on God's love for you?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Be Careful What You Let In


Romans 6:12-14 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
One of our small group lessons had a great illustration on the growth of sin. Have you ever heard of Kudzu? Have you ever tried to cut and clear land covered by Kudzu and keep it from coming back? It is not easy, is it?  Kudzu is known as the vine that ate the south, it is a nuisance, but it didn’t start out that way.

In the 1930s, the US government brought this vine in from Asia and paid farmers to plant kudzu to protect against soil erosion. But what started as a good thing grew out of control. The warm summers and mild winters caused it to flourish until by 2010, it had taken over seven million acres across the Southeast.  Likewise there are so many things that seem harmless, fun, or even helpful that do slow unseen damage to our lives. Before we know it, we have surrendered control to them and we start fighting for them against God in our life. (1)

Your life is a weapon of righteousness. By that I mean the way you live, the way you talk, the way you act is a weapon that is meant to show God’s grace, love and honor. It is meant to cut through the lies of this world with love and humility so that others see the mercy and grace of God. That is the last thing the devil wants the world to see. The devil would love to disarm any part of your testimony, to get a toehold in one part of your life so that he can try to tear down the rest of it.

Be careful what you let in.

In Romans 6, Paul shows us that sin is an invader and our mortal bodies are the battleground on which it is fighting.  We have a choice to make.  Do we let our Creator, the Rightful King who loves us and died for us rein in our lives or do we let this invader, sin, reign instead?  Paul helps us see that sin is not just an isolated thing we do, it is an active, growing power. 

You know I’ve never seen Kudzu grow. I have seen where it has grown and overtaken, but I’ve never watched the vines spread. It just seems like it is this size one day, manageable, but I wake up a few days later and it had grown to something so big I might as well not even try to fight it. Sin is the same way. It may look still and unmoving but it is not. It is growing and devouring.

The goal of sin is to wreck your life by attempting to dethrone God in your life.  It then can turn you into a weapon against those you love.  Sin must be in control and it must destroy.  Our job is to not let sin rule even one part of our life, to not let him even get a toehold. If sin does enter in we must be honest enough to go before God and ask Him to clear it out - we can not do it on our own.   We must strive to live a life that is used as a weapon of good - loving, helping others, and not a life under control of the one who only wants to destroy and kill.

Living under grace is pure freedom but it is not freedom from responsibilities. We must not only consider how our actions, addictions, and choices affect us, but how they affect others. Are your actions glorifying Christ or are they pointing your friends and family to seek answers in the world instead of in Christ?

What are you doing with this new life in Christ this morning? Who will be controlling you today?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

1. Bible Studies For Life https://blog.lifeway.com/biblestudiesforlife/extra-ideas-for-adults-engaging-culture-in-an-ever-changing-world-session-4/

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Out Of The Boat, Into The Storm


Matthew 14: 28-31  28 “Lord, if it's You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.” 29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, a he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Why was Peter able to write such stirring and encouraging words later in his life when facing trials and persecution? Because his faith had already been tested and prepared long before.

We've all heard the encounter where Jesus walked on water, may have even seen illustrations of it, in fact we've heard it so much we often overlook some of the details.  This was no calm stroll on still water near the shore.  This was Jesus strolling out into a storm tossed, wind blown sea.  This was a boat full of disciples who had been rowing against the storm for hours, being blown off course and exhausted from the exertion.  They were tired, they were frightened, they were being forced to go the wrong way by forces larger than them.

Then comes Jesus and at first they are even more afraid to see Him!  But then good old Peter calls out and asks Jesus to command him to get out of the boat and step into the storm.

I've seen many illustrations of this incident where Peter is depicted as timidly hanging on to the boat and barely putting a toe in the water. I don't think that rings true. Look at the biblical description of Peter and you see that he was anything but timid. He was bold and brash. This was the same man who famously boasted that he would never leave Christ, never deny Him even if everyone else did and even if it meant his own death! Of course we know how that worked out.

Remember it is Peter who initiated this encounter by asking the Lord to command Him to come out on the water. I picture Peter confidently getting out of the boat and striding on the waves for a step or two... until he realizes how big the storm is. How high the waves are and how strong the winds are.
In my mind how it plays out is that Peter sees Jesus unflappable in the storm and thinks I can do that, as long as I am following Jesus the wind and waves won't touch me and he steps on out.  But then he gets out there and even though he is walking on water, even though he is not sinking and is safely doing the impossible, he still feels the wind and the waves. He is still getting wet and feels the pressure from the wind, the water crashing against his legs and then he gets scarred.

This isn't what he was expecting! Now we finally get our first cry out to God in this story “Lord, save me!” and it is not an expression of faith in God it as an expression of a lack of faith in God. He did not trust Jesus to bring Him safely to Him. That is why Jesus responded: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” We sometimes think that following Jesus through the storm means we will never get wet, but more often than not it simply means we will make it through to the other side. That is what happens to Peter here. He was perfectly safe as long he stayed focus on Jesus but the moment he pulled his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink. 

Before we are too tough on our friend Peter remember this: at least he stepped out of the boat! There were eleven other men in the boat who were too frightened to even do that!  Peter put that little faith he had into action and even though he struggled, even though he failed this time, his faith was built stronger. He would have more stumbles, take a few more falls but each time his faith grew a little more so that when the real trials and storms came, when God placed him as a leader of the church during some of it's darkest days, he and his faith were ready. His eyes would be focused squarely on Jesus and he would lead others through the storm and to Christ.

We are all frightened by the storms that swirl around us, that push us off course, but you can not allow yourself to be frozen by your fear.  You will never be strong enough to face the storms of life unless you are willing to take your faith and step out of the boat, into the storm, and towards Jesus.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Transformed In A Culture Of Conformity

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

It amazes me how a culture that prides itself on individuality, one that preaches the motto “You be you and I'll be me” truly stresses conformity. From our government to Hollywood we are taught that we can think what we want to think, as long as those thoughts line up with theirs. This pressure to conform comes in many ways, some more subtle than others. Perhaps it is the talking head on the news channel telling you that disagreeing is treason or maybe it is simply a coworker who keeps reminding you which people are worth something to society and which are not. The danger of this worldly conformity is that it blinds us to the beauty of God working all around us.

The one thing all of these influences have in common, no matter their source, is that they each believe their view is the right view and you must agree with them. I know the irony of typing that statement about the world is that many people will accuse Christians of the same thing. However, there is an important difference. I am not trying to convince you that my views and thoughts are the right views and thoughts. As a Christian I myself must first yield to a higher authority than me. I must yield to God - to His thoughts and His ways.

That is why the bible tells us to not be conformed to this age, to our societies teachings or influence, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our mind. How do we do this? By looking to God’s word first, by seeking out time with God first, and by training yourself in the spiritual discipline of hearing His still, small voice - the voice of truth.

One of my hobbies is magic, sleight of hand and illusion. One of the things I love about magic is it proves the lie that seeing is believing. With skillful manipulation, I can make you see many things that are not true. However, the Bible shows us that the opposite is true - believing is seeing. God does not have to prove Himself to us or put on a show for us. In fact, it is the utmost of human pride to believe that God has to show us anything! But the amazing thing is that when we believe and trust in Him we will begin to see Him at work not only in our life but in the lives of those around us. Our belief opens our eyes to the truth. Our faith is made sight.

When we seek Him first, when we shut out the clutter and noise of this world and let Him and His truth renew our mind then we will be transformed, renewed and able to see the work of God around us.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Joy To The World?

1st Peter 1:6 -7 6 You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We sometimes get the wrong view of childlike faith.  Take Christmas for example.  We look back longingly for the simple time when we were kids and we knew that our gifts would be under the tree, our Christmas dinner would be on the table and we would have plenty of time for rejoicing and celebrating and playing.  Now as adults we know the worry of the budget to buy those gifts and the food.  We feel the press of the schedule that squeezes our hearts and minds back to work even while we are sitting with family and friends.

It is not that when we were younger we did not understand those pressures, it’s just that we trusted our parents to handle it for us.  Likewise, our faith today is not a blind one where we ignore the pressures and the problems we face, rather it is a childlike one that endures the difficulties while trusting our Heavenly Father to provide for us in His way and in His time. Christianity is not a religion of fake happiness until the real thing comes.  Christian joy is not a phony smile covering a crying heart.  It is the joy of a genuine faith in a genuine God who has made a genuine promise to you.

It is interesting in verse six how we have both joys - “rejoice” - and struggles at the same time.  The Christian life is not one of perfection or lack of troubles.

Do not beat yourself up if you do not feel joyful all the time.  Do not think you have failed as a Christian if you are not always bursting with joy.  Often, how we feel does not measure up to what we know.  If you have accepted Christ you know He is in your life and what He has done for you, but sometimes in the daily grind of life you take your eyes off of Him.  Sometimes you simply do not feel joyful.  That is okay, perfect joy will be realized when we are home with Him.  In the meantime, it takes keeping your eyes on Jesus to remain in His joy.

Far too often when we feel like we have no joy it is because we are looking for it anywhere and everywhere except the one place we can find it.  We seek out distractions instead of discipline.  We look to entertainment instead of enlightenment.  When you look to the world for joy instead of to Jesus you will find only a poor imitation, you will find only fools gold.

Fools gold is the fake yellowish crystal that tricked many miners into thinking they had struck it rich and had found what they were looking for.  However, this abundant rock was worthless.  It glittered and promised but it did not deliver.  Such is the promise of much this world has to offer.  But if you can keep your eyes on Jesus and actively seek out your joy in Him even in the midst of the trials and struggles of this world then you will find, as verse seven tells us, something more valuable than even real gold.  Something refined and pure that will last forever.

We realize that joy is not a burden for us when we realize that our joy is not found in this world and is not tied to our present circumstances.  We discover true joy when we realize that God is actively laying the foundation for our joy, not in passing but for eternity.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.